Out of print for more than 30 years, now available for the first time as an eBook, this is the controversial story of John Wooden's first 25 years and first 8 NCAA Championships as UCLA Head Basketball Coach. This is the only book that gives a true picture of the character of John Wooden and the influence of his assistant, Jerry Norman, whose contributions Wooden  ignored and tried to bury.

Compiled with more than 40 hours of interviews with Coach Wooden, learn about the man behind the coach. The players tell their their stories in their own words. This is the book that UCLA Athletic Director J.D. Morgan tried to ban.

Click the book to read the first chapter and for ordering information.

Casino Jack (1/10)

by Tony Medley

Run Time 108 minutes

Not for children.

Hard on the heals of Alex Gibney’s propaganda film Casino Jack and the United States of Money, comes this fictional portrayal of the notorious Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey), who was a powerful influence peddler during the Bush Administration. At least Gibney used archival films and based everything on what actually occurred, even if he did present the story entirely from his point of view.

Both pretty much ignore the fact that Abramoff was peddling influence with both Republicans and Democrats to concentrate on the corruption of Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper) with Republicans, specifically about how they scammed an Indian tribe. While the film accuses only Republicans of being tarnished by Abramoff, the facts are that of the approximately $85 million in tribal money entrusted to Abramoff, his employers, or his related organizations, over $4.4 million was directed to at least 250 members of Congress. Democrats received approximately 1/3 of the funds, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND).

Contrasted with Gibney’s use of archival films and interviews with people involved, in this, to the contrary, director George Hickenlooper, who passed away two days before my screening, creates everything out of whole cloth, helped in large part by a poorly written screenplay by Norman Snider. The dialogue and situations are basically absurd.

While Spacey gives an adequate performance, there are at least three performances that stand out. Kelly Preston gives a fine performance as Pam Abramoff, Jack’s long suffering wife. Maury Chaykin (who passed away in July) comes through as a believable mobster, Big Tony, and Jon Lovitz is very good as a mob-connected pal of Jack’s, Adam Kidan.

Unfortunately, more than counter-balancing these performances is Barry Pepper as Jack’s partner, Michael Scanlon. His performance is so out of touch with reality that it exacerbates the amateurish direction and script that lacks credibility. Hickenlooper was apparently trying to be comedic because before the screening, a co-producer spoke to us and told us to enjoy the movie because it was basically a comedy. If so, I didn’t see much at which to laugh with. At, maybe.

Hickenlooper was not without talent. He directed The Man From  Elysian Fields, which I thought one of the best films of 2002, although he followed that up with the disappointing Factory Girl, about Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick.

Hickenlooper missed a big chance to draw a dichotomy between how leniently crooks like Abramoff and Scanlon are treated and the way common criminals are treated. If you use a gun to hold up a bank and take, say, $10,000, you can count on 20 years in jail at a maximum security prison. Abramoff and Scanlon apparently robbed the Indian tribe of many millions of dollars but Abramoff was sentenced to only 6 years in a minimum security prison and got paroled after serving 3 ˝ years.

In short, “amateurish” is the word that kept wafting through my mind throughout the film.

November 1, 2010